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Beauty and Peril

Suzanne Frischkorn reviews Bloom, poems by Simmons B. Buntin

Bloom, poems by Simmons B. BuntinThe natural world and family braid together in Bloom, Simmons B. Buntin’s second poetry collection released by Salmon Poetry. Here, Buntin’s contemplative poems of place—focusing on the Borderlands of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, yet also as far off as the Israeli desert, Sweden, and Hiroshima, Japan—are placed alongside beautiful lyrics about his family, most often his daughters.

While broad in its thematic settings, Bloom is divided into three intense sections—Shine, Flare, and Inflorescence—each of which features lines as lush and lyrical as they are exact. Buntin writes layered, evocative poems.

The world captured in Bloom is vulnerable in surprising ways. “Shine,” the opening poem of the first section, begins by depicting the ultraviolet shine of the exoskeletons of scorpions:

Pouring the black light into every crevice,
we follow the thick vertebrae of the wall

until the moon and bats rise—
until the purple radiance fills the night. There

there, all at once, the poisonous scorpions shine.

The deft turn at the poem’s center, however, brings the reader to another view of shine:

the dark mountain pass, the pressing lights
of the city, the dim lane leading

to our house—and then the brake hard
at the tangled braid of red and yellow and

black. Eyes open and shining, jaw heavy
with venom, the coral snake’s body

The redemptive quality normally associated with light, reflected by shine, immolates on itself. “Shine” is a dark poem, despite its title, and it sets the pace for a collection that twines beauty with peril. The poems ends:

now into the car, into the silent rooms
of our house, there is a violet

light pouring over everything and nothing,
like that last terrible night in Eden

when every sharp animal rushed to hide
in all the exposed crevices of the world.

Buntin closes this first section with one of my favorite poems from the collection: “Arc.” This poem not only delights the ear, but also the eye with its exquisite precision. The tension found in the scene and the poem’s brisk pace—it is written in one long sentence—is suspenseful. The reader is completely disarmed by the close where the poem opens up like a desert sky must seem to open on a starry night. Here’s the full poem:


If there is an art
to scaling desert
boulders in bare feet
it is this: my daughter,
eleven, tosses her sandals
to prickly pear
and mesquite, pries
knee into crevice,
and presses onto the sun-
drunk surface
like a lizard revealed,
hair blazing
in late afternoon
light, pants hitched
mid-calf, a hard
look of fear
and determination
before fingers and feet
release to the flat
wind, time slowed
by her sudden
leap to sharp granite
and the improbable
landing, only a thin
necklace of blood
on her ankle, red
like the thorn-guarded
flower, the arc
of a girl’s first desire.

The second section, Flare, is arranged with a sharp focus on the plants and animals that inhabit the Borderlands, revealing what the speaker finds sacred in the natural history of the desert. For example, in “Antler among Poppies” he writes:

Who but the buzzards

truly survey the land?
            Who but the scythe-winged
                        spirits know the old, old blade

that is death?

What I think is that one
            sacrifice across a plain
                        of seasonal brilliance is enough.

Inflorescence, the final section, is a long, numberered poem—a masterful cycle of poems—on a daughter’s surgery and recovery after a harrowing accident, alternated with the gradual rebirth of the yard’s agave. This breathtaking cycle opens with a simile that’s turned inside out:

If her plunge through the plate window
was a blossom—glass shards
like petals peeled from the stem
of her body, slicing
air and flesh, breaking silence
upon silence—
then her fall was the quick scythe,
the awful noise
of realization as she crashed
from dark room to light,
wood floor to stone,
easy leap to hard, clear resistance.

Buntin’s turns are surprising throughout the cycle, and his skill at surprising the reader ultimately creates a powerful and haunting poem.

Bloom is a compelling collection on the risks and rewards of immersing oneself in the natural world, its beauties and its dangers, as well as a grand testament of a father’s love.


Suzanne Frischkorn is the author of Girl on a Bridge (2010) and Lit Windowpane (2008) both from Main Street Rag Publishing. In addition she is the author of five chapbooks, most recently American Flamingo (2008). She serves as an assistant editor for Anti-.
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By Simmons B. Buntin

   Salmon Poetry
   96 pages
   ISBN 978-1907056499


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